Exactly how is Shakespeare relevant to FKA Twigs, Tom Daley and Emma Watson?

Being an A2 English Literature student the study of Shakespeare is unavoidable. While I get my head down and get on with my studies, the rest of my class can’t help but moan the oh-so common groan common to all English classes around the globe, the dreaded: “but Missssssssss, what’s even the POINT of Shakespeare? It’s so OLD!!!!!!!!!!’

But I’ll tell you what Shakespeare has to do with the 21st century.

Othello is the tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers: Othello and Desdemona. The relationship between the two is unconventional due to Othello’s race – Othello is black. Initially everyone loves the mighty Othello, however, once he has been tricked into making various fatal mistakes, his so called ‘friends’ suddenly turn on him and begin using his race as a weapon against him, highlighting the racism found in the Elizabethan society.

Fast forward 400 years and the problem of race is still an issue.

Earlier this year, we were met with the news that the singer-songwriter FKA Twigs was racially abused on Twitter after it was revealed that she is dating the Twilight-Star Robert Patterson. The British singer (who has a Jamaican father and a half Spanish, half English mother) was met with online abuse claiming she was a ‘monkey abortion’, something that is not only disgusting but completely unacceptable in any shape or form.

What makes matters worse is that the abuse seems to be coming from ‘twihard’ twilight fans who appear to still be bitter over Robert Patterson’s and co-star Kristen Stewart’s break up (after she cheated on him, may I add).

‘Kristen is our queen’, one user said, while another said ‘it really impossible to believe that Rob out with this monkey @FKAtwigs’.

Certainly, while these comments made by bitter and over-obsessive teenage girls is disgusting, it highlights an overall bigger social problem.

While social media has proved its significance through recent ‘every women has’ campaigns and has also been used to spread awareness of Emma Watson’s recent UN ‘Feminist’ speech, the ambiguity of the platform offers users an opportunity to make such comments without having to face to consequences of their comments. Indeed, what these twitter users may not realise is that in the real world (or ‘IRL’, as they may call it) if they had been caught using these comments in the workforce, they would have in fact been breaking the law and could have faced fines and the prospect of losing their jobs as a result. While online abusers are able to use their computer screen as a shield against back-lash, victims of such abuse are unable to simply ‘switch off’ from discrimination. Unfortunately as much as we do not want to admit it, being black, female or gay means that you will indivertibly be subject to some form of prejudice in your lifetime. It is an indivertible fact, one that is truly horrific and truly terrifying.

Arguably, one of the most important political changes to have happened in our life time is the passing of the 2010 Equality Act which established clearer laws regarding the protection of the equality of women, the disabled, people of ethnic minorities and the LGBT community. However, while of course the action of the government is vital in protecting the rights of our fellow citizens, the government can only do so much. Where the biggest change needs to come from is from is from us.

Yes, us.

Have you ever considered that using the term ‘oh, that’s so GAYYYYYY!’ is ignorant and encourages homophobia? After coming out in 2013, Tom Daley was met with tweets calling him a ‘homo fuck’ and comments of ‘Lol wasn’t it obvious Tom Daley is a fag’ were neither ‘lol’ nor was Daley’s sexuality ‘obvious’. What people need to realise is, is that sexuality, race and gender are not characteristics: they’re nouns. They are not insults nor should they have negative stereotypes attached to them. Ultimately, while many of us like to believe that we live in a sugar-coated world full ice cream and butterflies, our inability to stamp out these negative and ancient connotations proves that society has not progressed from the time of Shakespeare as much as we would all like to believe.

Furthermore, many of us only fight for rights that directly affect ourselves. Now in no way am I meaning to generalise nor offend, but statistically it cannot be disputed that the majority of feminists are female and the majority of people who campaign for racial equality are of a racial minority. This needs to end. Are we not all fighting for the same battle? Is equality not just the battle for equal rights for everyone? If everybody simply decided to not use the words ‘gay’, ‘queer’ or ‘black’ as insults or choose to treat people differently because of a few unavoidable biological factors, then we would live in a far more equal and happy society. Indeed, being white, male or straight means you don’t have to think about these factors: for women the mere fact they did not win the privilege of being the superior sex in the genetic-gender-lottery can mean they face discrimination, inadequate education and sexual exploitation or abuse. Simply because they make up 50% of the population that are not male.

What the response to FKA Twigs has highlighted is that, for many people, race is still an underlying sense of power. Like characters in Othello, these online abusers proved that underneath our ‘equal society’, there is still an underlying sense that these racial slurs are acceptable. People do not simply become racist for arguments sake. These online abusers highlight that even today, despite our efforts, enough isn’t being done to highlight the impact of such deep-rooted abuse. Racism is an issue that dates back hundreds of years and it only takes a quick Google to reveal the absolute horrors that black citizens have had to endure because of the colour of their skin. Slavery, lynching, institutionalised racism.

So if anyone in my English class ever asks how Shakespeare is relevant to the modern day, I’ll make sure to leave them with a response that means they will never dare to ask such a question ever, ever again.

Words by Juliette Rowsell


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